It has become important for water utilities across the globe to consider customer experience management as a top priority in terms of having a strategic and operational focus as well as considering investments to continuously improve the same. So far, water utilities have had a good run in most developed countries. Operating in a monopolistic operating environment in the allocated geographic regions, their focus had always been on investments in operations and satisfying regulation as a priority. This was a comfortable arrangement, where all elements of the equation were known to all parties. In such an operating environment, companies rarely tried to understand customer experience truly. Customer service was limited to billing operations and operational issues resolution and rarely there was felt a need to look at customer satisfaction metrics which are commonplace in most consumer facing industries. Customers too were content with passively dealing with their water utility in the absence of any alternatives.
In recent times though, things have begun to change significantly in the operating environment for water utilities. Recent changes in regulation have opened up parts of the water utilities value chain to competition. This translates to a business customer who suddenly has choices on where to take their business and from whom they get their services. Going forward this may catch up with regular household customers as well similar to what is happening in gas and electric utilities. In UK penalty and reward mechanism has been introduced to mimic this kind of an environment as a first step. In addition, today’s consumer is becoming increasingly socially connected and environmentally conscious and feels a heightened need to know and understand her impact on the environment. Most utilities are unprepared to make this transition to serving a more evolved customer.
To make a smooth transition to a more customer centric organization, the first step a utility needs to do is to understand its customers better and determine where they stand on a baseline of customer experience. Instead of approaching the problem from a more traditional, and maybe, flawed approach of sending out surveys to a selected few and then drawing conclusions on the nature of the entire customer base, utilities offer a distinct advantage for conducting such an exercise. In the case of a utility, a direct proxy for customer experience is the number and nature of interactions with the utility that any customer has made. A composite customer experience score called a Customer Experience Index or CEI, can be derived for every customer basis the nature of the contacts being made. The customers are scored from the lowest scores – for repeated unwanted contacts, escalations, severe service outages and written complaints, to the highest CEI scores for contacts made for making payments, giving good feedback and any contact made for wanted reasons. Such segmentation gives the utility the ability to treat their customers differently.
What are some of the initiatives and frameworks that have worked best for you to serve the aware consumer of today? Let us know in the comments.